An Antiabortion Activist Makes Herself
By Lloyd Grove
The Unofficial Mouthpiece for Paula Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 1997; Page C01
In her noisy career as an ideological activist, Susan Carpenter-McMillan has never lacked for attention. Her bright blond bouffant and razor-sharp tongue are a staple of local television, where she made her name as an opponent of abortion, an advocate of chemical castration and an evangelist of something she calls "conservative feminism."
But now she's climbed onto the national stage as the self-styled spokeswoman for Paula Corbin Jones the plaintiff in perhaps the most celebrated sexual harassment lawsuit in the annals of Western civilization.
"This is the biggest story I have ever worked on," the 49-year-old Carpenter-McMillan says of the public relations frenzy. "I'm blown away. I'm shocked."
The story, of course, is Jones's claim that President Clinton, while governor of Arkansas six years ago, exposed himself and requested sex from her at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock. Clinton has repeatedly denied it, but the case is widely seen as a huge embarrassment for the White House and a rich political opportunity for the president's enemies.
"I will never deny that when I first heard about this case I said, `Okay, good. We're gonna get that little slimeball,' " says Carpenter-McMillan, a staunch Republican who lives in this wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. Working out of her house, a flashy French-style chateau that she shares with her husband and their two daughters, she operates the Women's Coalition, a nonprofit group that publicizes problems such as child molestation and rape. She says its estimated $15,000 budget is financed largely by her husband, personal injury lawyer William Neal McMillan.
"You want my opinion of Bill Clinton?" she continues, her eyes like bright blue daggers. "He's a liar, a philanderer and an un-American a man who exposed himself to [Jones] after knowing her for 10 minutes. He has cheated on his wife, lied to his family and lied to the American people. I think he has no core."
"She certainly is a lady in a hurry," responds Clinton defender James Carville, who's been sparring with Carpenter-McMillan lately on such outlets as NBC's "Today" show and CNN's "Larry King Live." "Who knows? Maybe now that people are getting bored with the summer, she can spice up August for us. She's an excellent manifestation of what you tend to see in the Paula Jones camp."
Carpenter-McMillan grabbed the spotlight earlier this month at an unusual news conference at which the normally press-shy Jones appeared before the cameras "to introduce you to my really wonderful friend Susan." Jones then kept mum as her latest defender explained her role as champion and brand-new chairman of Jones's donor-financed legal fund.
Carpenter-McMillan says she's helping Jones move the Washington-based fund to California and will seek authority to write checks off the fund, which has collected an estimated quarter of a million dollars to pay Jones's lawyers. Meanwhile, Washington fund-raiser Cindy Hays says she'll continue to solicit donations. Aside from legal bills, the fund may be used to reimburse Jones's personal expenses such as phone bills and car repair, Carpenter-McMillan says.
"Susie's just a real good friend," Jones says, granting a brief phone interview to discuss Carpenter-McMillan's distinguishing characteristics. "Two and a half years ago she called me up and said she just wanted to support me. We see each other all the time. We go shopping together. She helps me with the legal fund, getting it set up and getting it transferred out here from Washington. And she's the kind of person who can respond to all the negative stuff being said about me. She really does know me."
As Carpenter-McMillan monitors the interview on the speakerphone in her mansion, Jones adds nervously from her Long Beach apartment, "I guess I've said too much. Joe is gonna kill me."
"Joe" is Washington lawyer Joseph Cammarata, one of Jones's attorneys in the lawsuit, which the Supreme Court recently decreed can go to trial before Clinton leaves office. Carpenter-McMillan's entry into the case and her clout with their client have caused friction within Team Paula. Cammarata "went ballistic," according to Carpenter-McMillan, after she sent out a press release anointing herself Jones's official spokeswoman. The lawyer and Carpenter-McMillan then haggled over the extent of Jones's participation in the news conference.
"We're trying to come up with the best legal term we can, that won't hurt her case and allows me complete freedom to say what I want," Carpenter-McMillan says. "Paula and I go back and forth. What we've come up with so far is `adviser.' I really think of her as my kid sister. . . . If you want to use the term `spokesperson' in the legal sense of the word, nobody can say anything for Paula but Paula."
"Gil Davis and Joe Cammarata are the spokespersons for Paula Jones, period," Cammarata insists. "Whatever the impression is, it's wrong. Susan is a friend." Asked to explain why the news conference was held, Cammarata sighs: "Some of life's questions must go unanswered."
Cammarata, for his part, is finding it decidedly difficult to resolve the confusion. Carpenter-McMillan has been repeatedly identified as a spokeswoman in television interviews, and last week she published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in which she was identified as "the Official Spokesperson for Paula Corbin Jones." When told of the article, Cammarata responded with a loud intake of breath.
For Carpenter-McMillan, the Paula Jones cause which she took up after the two were introduced by a mutual friend she refuses to name is the latest in a series of high-profile controversies that have put her name in lights.
The Glendale-born daughter of a millionaire real estate developer who lost his shirt in a series of bad deals, Carpenter-McMillan left the University of Southern California without graduating to marry Bill McMillan and help put him through law school by working with her mother in a baby goods store.
In 1980, she joined the antiabortion movement, rising to become the top media representative of the Right to Life League of Southern California. She drew national attention with her crusade to force Loma Linda University Medical Center to provide a heart transplant to a dying newborn known as Baby Jesse. But seven years ago, Carpenter-McMillan formally left the movement because, she says today, it was dominated by "misogynists who don't care about women" and "crazies who murder doctors." Coincidentally, her departure came shortly after the Los Angeles Times reported that she herself had undergone an abortion as a 21-year-old unmarried college student.
"I got a lot of support from people in the movement. It looked like a funeral home in here with all the flower arrangements being delivered. I almost thought of staying in the movement. There was a study showing that the most effective women in the pro-life movement were those who had had abortions and talked about the experience. But I never wanted to be the voice of the wounded woman."
For three years starting in 1991, she was a regular commentator on KABC-TV taking the "conservative feminist" point of view while running the Women's Coalition. She championed causes such as legislation requiring that sex offenders submit to chemical castration, and the banishment from California of convicted rapist Reginald Muldrew, known as the "Pillowcase Rapist."
"She's always been a Janey One-Note on abortion that's been her whole existence," says Bill Press, the former California Democratic Party chairman who is now a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire." "She was always leading the pack holding up posters of aborted fetuses. She has a great knack for getting herself and her issue on television. I never heard her speak on any other issue until she popped up with Paula Jones."
"She loves the limelight," says women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred, who was a frequent debating opponent on KABC-TV. "With this Paula Jones thing, my guess is that Susan is in seventh heaven. This is probably nirvana as far as she is concerned."
But Tammy Bruce, former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the liberal National Organization for Women, says Carpenter-McMillan is a worthy adversary. "I respect her work and I think Paula Jones is in good hands," Bruce says.
In the meantime, Carpenter-McMillan is bracing for attacks from "Big Bad Bill and his gang of thugs" Carville chief among them. "I got a call from D.C. saying, `You know they're gonna cream you,' " Carpenter-McMillan says. "I've never played in his league before. But I'm not scared. I'll play just as hard, and just as much for keeps, as Carville does. If he wants to get dirty, then all right. I love mud."
She can't resist adding: "I love Mary Matalin. I don't know what she sees in him. He must be great in bed."
Carville can barely speak through his giggles and snickers.
"I think this lady needs to be on TV a lot," he says. "I am perfectly willing to let the American people hear her opinions. We look forward to her being out there."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
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